I very nearly forgot I had to write this. I blame it on the constant whisking away Chanel is famous for: whisked away from New York to Hamburg, Germany, birthplace of Karl Lagerfeld; whisked away to the Steinway factory where we watched pianos — the narrator of all great dramatic scenes — be made by hand; whisked away to the city’s famous Christmas markets; to the hotel; to the Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg’s new acoustic concert hall and grand venue of Chanel’s Métiers d’Art show.
There, the conductor stood in the middle of the stage, lifted his arm to signal the crescendo of music, and as though he were the wizard in Fantasia and all of us had been brooms before that moment, we and the venue and the models came alive with the flick of his baton in an instant, whisked into the world of fantasy as Lagerfeld wants you to see it.
First, I’d like to eat my words: when it comes to the collection’s main accessory, those short-brimmed nautical hats have won. I like them. (I’m still anti-newsboy, but these are different. They’re elbseglers.)
The hats, the clothes and the theme were a salute to Lagerfeld’s childhood German port city and a tribute to the sea. Women, men and that very cute kid were dressed just a bit like sailors, with an era-dusting of 1960s. But for all the on-the-nose literal hints, like anchors on the front of the hats and sailor capes, there was nothing so kitschy you wouldn’t wear it. The whole collection was wonderful. (Chanel is not just Chanel because it’s Chanel, you know — there’s beauty, elegant design and hand-touched skill).
Personally, I would like to wear the slightly flared wide-leg trousers immediately. I would like all the Kira-Kira-sparkles. I want to shoot the puffy dinner jackets, the leather-trimmed A-shaped mini dress; I want to bury my face in the various fluffs of plumes, and I now believe everyone including children need to own a tuxedo.
Critically, it was interesting to read something Suzy Menkes wrote shortly after: “the designer has not devised a collection based on nostalgia.” I had written down (far less eloquently) the same thing. Lagerfeld may reference the past, but he’s not so precious about it. He respectfully acknowledges it and moves forward.
His devoted fans move forward with him. In the crowd of VIPs, women of a certain age, as they say, wore designs from his most recent season — the fun stuff, not just suited tweed. Also in the crowd were kids. There’s a very natural blending of tradition and youth in all that surrounds Chanel. I suppose that’s the ideal blend for any storied design house.
At the Steinway factory, after the tour had finished and a mini concert had been given, Tim Blanks, Business of Fashion’s Editor-at-Large and longtime fashion journalist, asked the pianist, post-bow, a question:
“Was that Radiohead I heard you play?”
“Radiohead-ish,” the pianist responded. He explained he sometimes weaves in bits of the rock band’s songs into classical piano pieces. The blending of old and new: I suppose it’s a universal technique that allows us to feel connected to the present, before it registers we’re living it.
Following the show, it was off to the afterparty, where a smoky fog masked a massive warehouse, all dark and romantic, everything made of wood. Men greeted us from the railings with German folksongs, and I imagined we were all bearded sailors preparing to crew a ship inside a dream, whisked away and up by the entire Chanel team.
As they say of the whisk — the baking tool that whips eggs into froth, and of conductor’s batons, and magic wands: it’s all in the wrist.
Feature photos by Stephane Cardinale – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images; Runway photos via Vogue Runway.